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ADELAIDE, Australia — Although many people would probably brand their friends (or even themselves) as “shopaholics,” is there a way to tell when the occasional spending spree becomes an actual addiction? Researchers in Australia say they’ve created a way of diagnosing people who “shop till they drop” for the first time.

The new criteria can determine whether someone suffers from shopping addiction, which scientists refer to as Compulsive-Buying Shopping Disorder. Shopping addiction has become a growing problem for many people who cannot resist the urge to buy more stuff.

Although researchers have documented the practice for more than a century, there is still no official diagnosis for the disorder. Now, researchers at Flinders University have come up with a set of guidelines for what makes someone a shopaholic.

“In over 20 years, since I started investigating excessive buying, there has been an absence of commonly agreed diagnostic criteria which has hampered the perceived seriousness of the problem, as well as research efforts and consequently the development of evidence-based treatments,” lead author Professor Mike Kyrios says in a university release.

What makes someone a clinical shopaholic?

Researchers gathered opinions from 138 experts in over 35 countries to reach a consensus over the criteria. The experts conclude a key feature of a shopping addiction is buying items without ever using them for their intended purpose.

Another characteristic of the disorder is when people use shopping as a feel good mechanism or to relieve negative emotions. Study authors defined excessive buying as losing control over what items they purchase.

“Clients who show excessive buying behavior commonly have difficulties in regulating their emotions, so buying or shopping is then used to feel better,” Prof. Kyrios explains. “Paradoxically, if someone with Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder goes on a shopping trip, this will briefly improve their negative feelings, but will soon lead to strong feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment.”

The new framework promises to help people who struggle to manage their spending and mental well-being. Evidence-based criteria for Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder is long overdue, the researchers note. Scientists will also need to develop more targeted treatments for this “debilitating” condition.

“This will now be possible with the world’s leading experts agreeing on diagnostic criteria for the disorder.” Prof. Kyrios concludes.

The findings appear in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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